03 June 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/23

Sappho: Fragment 47 x 14

The last time I held a Sapphopalooza, we looked at six different versions of what is possibly her only surviving complete poem, the Hymn to Aphrodite. This time I thought it would be interesting to see the many possibilities of one short fragment – really just a simile, about love but grand in the epic style, that survives from an otherwise unknown poem. The oldest version here from my ever-growing collection of Sappho translations is only from the late 1950s. I think earlier periods prized these surviving remnants of the past, but were more likely to see in them antiquarian rather than aesthetic interest; the twentieth century, under the influence of Imagism and other poetics that favor brevity and fragmentation, were more likely to find a remnant like this a satisfactory poem on its own.

And it is indeed a vivid and emotionally complete statement. The translations, though all from a relatively compact period, show a surprising range emotionally (from wonderment to agony and various places in between) and technically (from an emphasis on the fragmentary and dislocated to attempts at recreating the formal structure of the original). Each version reflects a slightly different view of love, of Sappho, of what Sappho should sound like to our foreign ears, and of what makes an effective poem.

 The original was preserved in the Orations of Maximus of Tyre:
Socrates says Eros is a sophist, Sappho calls him a weaver of tales. Socrates is driven mad for Phaedrus by Eros, while Sappho's heart is shaken by Eros like a wind falling on oaks on a mountain; (i.e.):
Ἔρος δ’ ἐτίναξέ μοιφρένας, ὠς ἄνεμος κὰτ ὄρος δρύσιν ἐμπέτων
That quotation is from the Loeb Classical Library text, and so is the first translation below. I'm starting with this one because, as previously noted, the purpose of the Loeb series is to provide a straightforward, fairly denotative guide on the right-hand pages to the original on the left-hand pages, so this version should be a fairly clear guide to the basic meaning of the words. The other translations are arranged alphabetically by the translator's surname; the date after each is the copyright date of the translation. One translator rendered it twice; his come in order of copyright date.

Love shook my heart like a wind falling on oaks on a mountain.
— trans. David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric: Sappho & Alcaeus, 1982

          Love shook my heart
like the wind on the mountain
rushing over the oak trees
— trans. Josephine Balmer, Poems & Fragments, 1984

Without warning

As a whirlwind
swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart
— trans. Mary Barnard, Sappho: A New Translation, 1958

Like a mountain whirlwind
punishing the oak trees,
love shattered my heart.
— trans. Willis Barnstone, Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets, 1962


Love shook my heart like wind
on a mountain punishing oak trees.
— trans. Willis Barnstone, Sweetbitter Love: Poems of Sappho: A New Translation, 2006

          Eros shook my
mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees
— trans. Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, 2002

Desire has shaken my mind
As wind in the mountain forests
Roars through trees.
— trans. Guy Davenport, 7 Greeks, 1965

Love shakes my heart
like a wind
sweeping down a mountain
onto oaks
— trans. Suzy Q. Groden, The Poems of Sappho, 1966

     Eros has shaken my mind,
wind sweeping down the mountain on oaks
— trans. Stanley Lombardo, Poems and Fragments, 2002

like a cyclone
shattering oak
     love smote
          my heart
— trans. Richard O'Connell, 1975, from The Sappho Companion, edited by Margaret Reynolds

Like a gale smiting an oak
On mountainous terrain,
Eros, with a stroke,
Shattered my brain.
— trans. Aaron Poochigian, Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments, 2009

Then love shook my heart like the wind that falls on
     oaks in the mountains.
— trans. Jim Powell, The Poetry of Sappho, 2007

Love shook my senses,
like wind crashing on mountain oaks.
— trans. Diane J. Rayor, Sappho's Lyre: Archaic Lyric and Women Poets of Ancient Greece, 1991

shakes my heart like the wind rushing down on
     the mountain oaks.
— trans. M L West, Greek Lyric Poetry, 1993

(The second photo was taken at the San Francisco Legion of Honor; the others are from the Metropolitan Museum's classical galleries.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

At first, I didn't know what to make of all these translations. Then, I decided to pick just one thing and look at it, so I picked what the wind was doing to those trees. In the first, it was simply falling, sort of a passive thing, then it rushed, then it swooped, which seemed kind of active. Then, it punished; not just active, but intentional. Finally, in one, it even did some smiting. I guess that's what happens when you leave a fragment with wind and love being compared. They both have so many ways of being.
Love the photos, by the way, especially the first one. It feels like you caught a private moment.